Matthew Archbold penned an article in the Catholic Register today wherein he professes to have proof that atheism is not a “cool choice.” Given that premise alone, I wouldn’t really disagree with the guy. The decision to embrace atheism or not, if based on whether it’s “cool,” would be a poorly reasoned decision and demonstrate a thought process counter to what most atheists view as rational or based in logic. We, in the United States, appear to have a fascination with celebrity and perceived authority so it’s no surprise that famous, outspoken atheists can have an impact on people’s decision-making processes but I’d argue that if the “coolness” of these people were the sole basis for someone’s atheism then we’re filling a pool with irrational people that will ultimately undermine the rationalist basis for the atheist movement (if you believe there’s a “movement” as such). In order to “prove” that atheism is uncool, Matthew presents eight arguments against the choice. I’d like to break these down and discuss them.
First, though, I’d like to address what I consider to be a fatal flaw in the first sentence of his article: “I’ve read a number of stories about how atheism is seen as ‘cool’ by many young people.” If you’ve been reading my blog you’ll notice that when I make statements like this I’ll link as many words in the sentence as is necessary to provide a basis for the statement itself. Matthew provides none. Nobody knows to which articles he’s referring and he’s perfectly content to keep it a secret. Anybody employing this tactic should automatically set off your bullshit meter. Now, on to the “proof”:
Atheists Die Younger And Are Less Happy
Setting aside the science of this statement for a minute, neither long life nor general happiness define “cool” in any way. We have plenty of examples of people revered as “cool” by religious and irreligious people alike who died relatively young and weren’t necessarily happy. You can do a Google search and find lists if you want, if you care about that sort of thing. Not all of these people had drug problems, not all of these people were depressed and lonely, and – to counter Matthew’s point – not all of these people were atheists.
As for the science: we can acknowledge that psychological/sociological studies have been done on the effects of religion on longevity and happiness, and most conclude that the benefits of religion don’t have anything to do with the religion itself but the social connectedness that comes from being part of a group of like-minded people. This makes perfect sense, given that we’re social creatures. It also makes sense in the context of a society where people adopt an “us v. them” mentality – especially with regard to their deeply held religious beliefs. When a person in America comes out as atheist they often find themselves ostracized (if they were previously part of a religious group) or badgered into rethinking their deconversion. I know from experience that when a religious parent finds out their child is an atheist they can start thinking, “Where did I go wrong as a parent” and project that shame onto their child in an attempt to get them “back into the fold.” You can imagine how unhappy that can make the child.
One of the great things about this realization is the ramped-up efforts on the part of atheist groups to organize support networks for people who have come out and need that social connectedness. Groups like the Atheist Community of Austin and the Recovering From Religion foundation have worked very hard to bring attention to the need for atheists to have these social safety nets.
As to general happiness, there are a number of articles and studies indicating that anti-depressant use is high among religious people – particularly women. I personally know a few religious people who take anti-depressants, and it really doesn’t matter to me why they’re taking them; it matters to me that we’re at least being factual about mental health issues and religion. The truth is, people who hold irrational beliefs aren’t immune to mental health issues just because they feel like part of the “in group.”
Atheist Artists Are Lame
This is, in my opinion, indisputably the most moronic point Matthew makes in this article.
Michelangelo and Bach (look ’em up kids!) were indisputably awesome Christian artists. But hey, atheists have the kid who plays Harry Potter. Do you really don’t [sic] want to be a part of any group that includes the actor formerly known as Harry Potter. Or maybe you do because that’s how uncool you actually are.
First of all, this is really patronizing. You don’t get to define “cool” for anyone but yourself and I don’t have any obligation to accept your definition. Because we’ve come such a long way, culturally, since the 16th century we really cannot compare the art of Daniel Radcliffe to the art of Michelangelo and Bach. The two you cite are inarguably geniuses in their fields and whatever their motivation for their work, nobody would say that their lack of rational beliefs regarding deities hindered their craft. However, to dismiss Radcliffe because you don’t think he’s cool is dismissing vast swaths of the population who do, in fact, think he’s really super cool. I happen to admire his body of work – not just in his portrayal of Harry Potter but also in independent productions on TV, film, and stage. I don’t, however, aspire to be like him. If he happens to be an atheist it’s neither here nor there to me because atheism is about belief and not about art.
Second, your choice of Daniel Radcliffe is a curious one. Why not Jodie Foster, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Keira Knightley, or Seth MacFarlane? Why not John Williams, who gives no indication that he has any religious belief at all yet has composed some of the most iconic, moving, and beautiful scores since Bach? Because you view a single person as an “uncool atheist” and call them out as your comparison to legendary artists from the middle ages you completely fail to recognize that your arbitrary standard of coolness (Would anybody even describe Michelangelo or Bach as “cool”? Do kids these days try to be like Bach?) undermines your entire argument. You have no credibility here because you forfeited it all in your anti-intellectual approach to forming arguments and equivocations.
Third, most atheists are also skeptics, rationalists, and science enthusiasts. As such, their definition of “cool” may delve more into the “nerd” category and include scientists like Eugenie Scott, Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and Bill Nye. “Cool” might align more with this list than actors, painters, or singers. It doesn’t matter whether or not you think they’re cool, because they’ve all offered much more in the intellectual and societal space than any theologian ever has.
Finally, I would hope that anybody who reads your article and may be on the fence as to what they believe (or don’t believe) would find your demeaning tone to be a determining factor in just rejecting your silly premise out-of-hand and dismissing you as a holier-than-thou Pharisee undeserving of their time. I’m only reading your article because it needs to be publicly refuted, as are all ridiculous ideas like yours.
Atheist Gatherings Are Lame
Forget what I wrote before. This point is so stupid it makes my brain hurt. Here, Matthew posts two photos: one is a few people gathered in a government building, protesting religion’s encroachment into government. The other is a picture of a large crowd celebrating “World Youth Day” with crosses and Jesus t-shirts. What’s so stupid about this equivocation – much like his last one – is that they portray polar opposite events that nobody would ever expect to look the same. If you want to post a valid comparison between atheist and religious events, then post a photo from the Reason Rally, ReasonCon, Gateway to Reason, or Skepticon. Every one of these atheist events attracts thousands of people who think skepticism, free inquiry, secularism, and atheism are cool. They attend these events because it gives them a sense of community like your churches do for religious people. They attend these events because they feel solidarity in their cause to promote humanist values, compassion, science, and reason in America instead of the authoritarian, theocratic regime of out-of-touch Christian white men in Washington, D.C.
How about we contrast these atheist gatherings to Christian gatherings like this:
Most Historical Mass Murderers Were Atheists
I’m so sick of this garbage argument. It’s been debunked a million times. Read this for a better explanation, but the short version is this: Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, and Hitler didn’t murder millions of people because of their atheism. What they didn’t believe wasn’t the issue; it was what they did believe, which was power, control, and domination. The only way we would attribute these atrocities to a religious belief would be an outright statement by one or more of them indicating that their belief in god(s) was the cause. Oh, wait…
My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. – Hitler, 1922
I won’t even go so far as to say that Hitler did what he did in the name of Jesus. Clearly, he wasn’t following that example. However, to say that the Holocaust was a product of not believing in god is ignorant beyond imagination. Shame on you, Matthew.
Extreme Christians Are Better Than Extreme Atheists
For this point, Matthew posts a photo of Mother Teresa as an example of an “extreme” Christian and a photo of Richard Dawkins as an “extreme” atheist. I’m not entirely sure whether Matthew has done his research on Mother Teresa, but if that’s the example he wants to use, then fine. I accept his example and would like to expand on how awful it is with the following evidence:
It’s admirable that this woman wanted to help the poor and sick, but her stance on human suffering was nauseating and the fact that her organization withheld resources and wealth that could have otherwise been used in her mission is detestable. In contrast, the Dawkins Foundation and the Center for Inquiry have no such “suffering is good” stance and promote humanist/secular values in an attempt to counter the type of irrational and harmful thinking of Mother Teresa and the Catholic Church at large. Richard Dawkins can be grating and smug sometimes, but at least he’s not promoting the ideas that accepting your poverty, embracing your suffering, and resigning yourself to a better chance in the afterlife are admirable or worthwhile.
Also, do you actually think Mother Teresa fits into the scope of “cool?” So far, your only examples of cool Christian people are dead!
Women Dig Christian Dudes
I really need to stop saying that any of Matthew’s points are the worst. They seem to be getting more terrible the more I read! In order to refute this point I’m just going to quote it. It refutes itself out of sheer idiocy:
As a Christian, my wife looks at me like I’m a gift from God. Seriously, to her that’s what I am. Your atheist girlfriend (should you ever get one after you move out of your stepdad’s basement) will see you as a gel-haired accident in skinny jeans on a lonely rock orbiting a meaningless sun in a mistake of a universe. See the difference? It’s kind of a big one.
Check your privilege, bruh. My atheist girlfriend cannot seem to get enough of me.
College Professors Are Uncool Atheists
Matthew doesn’t have a grasp on what constitutes a coherent thought, let alone a reasonable argument. Here, he argues that since college professors are all bossy old, gray-haired, tweed-sport-jacket-wearing dorks, any views they hold are patently “uncool.” Let’s break this down:
- Not all college professors are old
- Not all college professors are atheists
- Not all college professors agree
- Not all college professors are authoritarian
He really needs to learn how to Venn Diagram. Matthew states that wanting to be like these old dorks is lame, unless you want to be like Tony Esolen:
…an old, gray-haired, tweed-sport-jacket-wearing English professor. What?!
Atheists Have Less [sic] Children
Matthew’s final point is – again – stupid. he fails to grasp the dynamic of human sexuality and reproduction and creates a false equivalency between sexual activity and childbirth. He asserts that atheists have fewer (it’s fewer, not less, Matthew) children and are therefore miserable because they have less (this is where less works, Matthew) sex. This is ignorant for many reasons:
- Atheists don’t have religious prohibitions on contraception and understand that sexual activity doesn’t have to result in procreation
- Both atheists and religious people alike sometimes realize that they either:
- Don’t want children
- Can’t have children due to medical, financial, or circumstantial reasons
Children often introduce stress, anxiety, and depression that many people – atheist and religious – don’t want to experience. Additionally, some people come to very selfless realizations that they just wouldn’t be good parents. Instead of accidentally or purposely having children they know they won’t be able to nurture, they opt for what they see as the greater good and forego parenting altogether. That’s a pretty noble stance and, having become that self-aware, these people are often happier in the long-run because they didn’t have to live with the knowledge that they may have screwed some kid’s life up. The presence of children in religious relationships doesn’t indicate happiness either. There are plenty of religious parents who experience the stress, anxiety, and depression the same as anybody else. Matthew truly doesn’t even understand how the world works.
Reading this article hurt my brain. Matthew Archbold is completely out of touch with reality and lacks the ability to make a convincing argument. He failed on every level to produce “proof” (or even the slightest evidence) of his view and, unless the target audience is bobbleheads who nod in agreement with anything another Catholic says/writes, it’s likely that this tripe could push away younger Christians who are kind of on the fence about their beliefs. I actually hope the latter is the case. Thanks to Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist for reading and posting the link to this garbage article.